Saturday, December 03, 2005

Open the windows

A quote reported by Ewan really caught my attention:
"A house without doors and windows is safer than a house with doors and windows."
originally uploaded by work the angles.
This follows on the heels of moderate or not moderate posts from Ewan and John. It reminded me of the representative of an education authority who insisted at a recent meeting that it must be possible to pre-moderate all pupils' email. It reminded me of David Warlick's post on Our schools are leaking. In other words, it brought various bits of thinking together and has resulted in what I fear will be a a bit of a ramble with no clear point. You have been warned.

I was at a meeting of the Scottish Information and Communication Technology Development Group on Friday. (It's acronym is SICTDG and it's pronounced sickdog!) It was a really interesting meeting and I hope to blog a bit about it soon. Just a couple of things from it now though... One of the topics being discussed was the difficulty Education Authorities (EAs) had just keeping ICT provision at the level it is now, never mind improving or expanding this provision. I asked why Authorities made it so difficult for people to bring in their own technology and asked if this was not a bit silly? It's not just the pupils, but staff too that can run into problems. Our student teachers can take in their laptops to some schools, but are almost never allowed to plug into the school's network. It was admitted that that this might be a bit silly and that with more than thirty EAs in Scotland there were probably about sixty different flavours of silliness in operation. One EA representative acknowledgeded that they gave Probationary teachers a laptop and then gave them the choice - they can connect to the school network or their home network with the laptop, but not both! Clearly there are security and safety issues that EAs have to consider and I may say more about this later, but for now, suffice to say that there was a feeling EAs should move from a can't do mentality to can do.

I continued a conversation on this theme with an old friend at lunchtime. I mentioned Ewan's quote about safe houses and we talked about the wisdom of putting a window to the world in the classroom only to slam it shut in pupils' faces. I expressed my opinion that I would like to see more local control over things like blocked sites. For example, if a pupil tries to access a site which the EAs system blocks, I'd like teachers to have some sort of password that would allow them to override the block if they thought it was appropriate. My friend, who is clearly much wiser than I, said that while we might have the confidence to do this, many or even most teachers do not have the confidence to make that sort of decision on the spot and would be concerned about the consequences if they made the wrong judgmentnt call. Hmm! Am I expecting too much of teachers?

At first I thought he was just wrong, but then I thought of my own unwillingness to sign up for a First Aid course. Now I know this is stupid, but I'd rather not have a First Aid qualification that would give me the responsibility of helping if someone was in trouble. I know, I know. What I'm saying is that I would rather a bad situation gets worse because of my willful ignorance than have the skills that would at least allow me to try and help. It's silly, I know it is, but even while knowing it to be silly, I still resist going on the courses. So, yes, maybe there are many teachers out there who would rather live with the boarded up Internet windows than run the risk of opening them up see what is out there.

The university recently sold off some of the land round our campus so that someone could build houses on it. For a while we had to enter the campus through the building site. There were loads of signs up (e.g. "Hard hats must be worn" type signs) but one in particular read, "This is a risk-free zone". A retiring colleague remarked that he knew it was time to retire when he was greeted at the gates of an education faculty with the declaration that it should be a risk free zone! That's as close as I can get to a conclusion to this post just now. Giving pupils Internet access is risky but what it the alternative? That brings me back to David Warlick and a recent post where he asks What's the story? If you want a better conclusion, see how he says we should be preparing pupils for the future.

As for me, I think I'll continue to encourage teachers to push the windows open, and may even sign up for the next First Aid course that comes along.

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john said...

Hi David,
So, yes, maybe there are many teachers out there who would rather live with the boarded up Internet windows than run the risk of opening them up see what is out there.
Well with your suggestion they have the best of both worlds, any worry or concern just give it a miss, if you are confident put it your password. For me the problem often comes with sites I have researched at home, but not had time to test in school, so I am confident that the sites will not be a problem.

Chris said...

Am I expecting too much of teachers?

No. Just some teachers. I was driven dotty by the server in DGS when I was there - half of Richard Holloway's sites were barred because of "unsuitable content", and there were book reviews we couldn't access either. We're becoming such a timorous society - we have all this brave new world at our fingertips and still suffer from the kind of mentality which had Victorians covering up the legs of their pianos - hypocrisy and all.

David said...

Hello John

It was partly you describing your recent experiences with a class that prompted my rant!

Hello Chris

The question is, what sort of proportion is "some"? Most? Half? Hardly any? I thinhk there are genuine concerns on the part of EAs. I do have some sympathy with their predicament. However, at the moment they are going well beyond erring on the side of caution.

Hello both

Thank you for your general agreement that I am no expecting too much of teachers. However, I suspect that people who read and comment on blogs are not exacty typical examples of the teaching profession. :-)